NBA Star Power Index: LeBron James is finally breaking down; Damian Lillard concludes record-breaking month

NBA Star Power Index: LeBron James is finally breaking down; Damian Lillard concludes record-breaking month

Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the regular season. 

James found himself in the headlines this week for all the wrong reasons. A foot injury is expected to keep him out for the next two weeks at least, and CBS Sports insider Bill Reiter confirmed that James could be out longer than that depending, at least in part, on where the Lakers are in the standings at the two-week checkpoint. 

This is brutal for the Lakers, who are currently below the play-in/lottery line after a loss to Memphis on Tuesday. The good news is they are just one game back in the loss column of the No. 8 Timberwolves, No. 9 Jazz and No. 10 Pelicans. Can they somehow stay in this race long enough to justify LeBron coming back on an accelerated timetable? 

You can only hold out hope so many times only to have it dashed. The bottom line is the Lakers have been a pretty bad team for most of the season, and the stretches they have been good haven’t lasted because LeBron and/or Anthony Davis can’t stay healthy. It begs the question: Is LeBron, finally, in his 20th season, starting to break down physically? Consider this:

READ: Is LeBron running out of time?

Lillard just concluded a monster February, during which he averaged 38.5 points over 10 games, a Blazers franchise record for any single month. Lillard, in fact, owns the five highest single-month scoring averages in Blazer annals, per CBS Sports research. 

  • February 2023: 38.5 PPG
  • January 2023: 34.5 PPG
  • January 2020: 34.1 PPG
  • January 2021: 31.5 PPG
  • February 2018: 31.4 PPG

This recent stretch, of course, includes Lillard’s 71-point barrage against the Rockets on Sunday night. He did it in just 39 minutes with a total shot distance of 420 feet, both unparalleled feats in NBA history — or in the case of the latter, since the start of the shot-location tracking era (1996-97). 

I wrote about how Lillard is quietly becoming one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. That might sound like an overreaction, but it’s not. Check the numbers. 

At the high end, Lillard has more 50-point games (15) than LeBron James (14). The only active player with more 50-point games than Lillard is James Harden, who has 23. But the most points Harden has ever scored in a single game is 61. Lillard has hit that mark twice and bested it once. 

Stephen Curry’s career high is 62, and Curry’s 11 50-point games also trail Lillard’s total, as do Kevin Durant’s nine. 

Lillard has five career 60-point games, compared to the one each that LeBron and Curry can claim. Lillard is the second player in history, joining Kobe Bryant, to put up two 60-point games in two separate seasons — 2022-23 and 2019-20.

At present, Lillard has 19,051 career points. If he were to play six more years, at just 60 games per season, at his career average of 25 points per game, which, if you look at his career marks, is actually conservative on all fronts, he would, at present, go down as the NBA’s eighth all-time leading scorer, one spot ahead of Shaquille O’Neal. 

Fact is, 30,000 career points is legitimately in play for Lillard, who is likely going to average well above 25 points for the foreseeable future. In NBA history, only seven guys in history have cleared that bar.

Morant set a Grizzlies franchise record for points in a quarter with 28 in the third against the Lakers on Tuesday. Morant finished with 39 points, 30 of which came in the paint. It marks the fourth time he has recorded at least 30 paint points in a game, the most by any guard since play-by-play data began being tracked in 1996-97, per ESPN Stats.

If you haven’t been paying attention amid the Warriors’ water-treading struggles, Thompson has been back to his old wats for an extended period. After scoring 23 points on 3-of-7 from deep in a win over the Blazers on Tuesday, here are Thompson’s splits for the month of February. 

But it tracks back further. Since New Year’s Day, a span of 21 games, Thompson is now averaging 26 points on better than 44% 3-point shooting. For the season, Thompson is at 22 points a night on 41% 3-point shooting. Those are right in line with his prime. 

Tatum has struggled to find his jumper since returning from the All-Star break, making just 36% of his shots, including 24% from 3, over Boston’s last three games. 

But Tatum made one shot that counted huge, a last-second 3-pointer on a great play design to beat the Sixers on Saturday. 

Over the last five seasons, Tatum has nine game-tying or go-ahead shots inside the final five seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime, the most in the NBA during that span, per ESPN Stats

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